The taste of Tom Brown Cookies is enough to hook people for life, and it has. But the cookies give more than just pleasure to the taste buds.
They’ve been a comfort food and a gift that makes people feel happier. They’ve been a means of raising money for worthwhile causes.
And they’ve been a way to encourage people and remind them that somebody cares.
For Tom Brown, the baking of cookies is done out of a love, not just for chocolate, peanuts and sugar, but for people.
“It’s his way, I guess, of saying, ‘I’m thinking about you and I care about you,’” friend and neighbor Ken Waits, 53, president of Mewbourne Oil Co., said. “He could sell the cookies commercially if he wanted to for a cagillion dollars, but I think what Tom does so well that makes them that much more special is he cares about people and uses them as a way to show that.”
For more than 20 years, Brown, 58, a lawyer who specializes in estate planning and business matters, has been baking and giving away his Tom Brown Cookies as a means of spreading love and cheer.
Recipients include friends in need, clients at his law office, nurses at a hospital he’s visiting and fellow church members.
The cookies — which in their standard form include loads of chocolate chips, peanuts and a handful of other more secret ingredients — have made such a name for themselves that even former President George W. Bush has had them courtesy of a mutual friend.
But fame is not what Brown is looking for. It’s the joy of giving to others through a baked good that he loves. That alone makes him happy.
“It’s a unique product that expresses … his personality, and it’s the way he shares himself with others,” said Ron Thomas, 57, a Plano resident and lifelong friend of Brown’s.
Raised primarily in Springfield, Mo., Brown, 58, grew up in a house with, oddly enough, a mother who was almost a health food nut, he said.
Although she was a fabulous cook, they seldom had many sweets in their house. But, his maternal grandmother baked cookies.
“I used to think there must be something wrong with her because she would have a bag of chocolate chips and very carefully place one chocolate chip in each cookie,” he said.
His grandmother’s frugal ways, likely built by living through the Great Depression, caused Brown to do the exact opposite when it was his turn to bake cookies. His generosity with the chocolate chips is part of what his cookies are known for. “There’s no reason to have a bite of cookie unless there’s a chocolate chip in it,” he said. “So, if you get to a part in the cookie that doesn’t have a chocolate chip, throw it away.”
It was during his junior year in college, the first time he had his own oven, that Brown started experimenting with making cookies.
He bought cookies at cafés or bakeries to eat them and figure out what qualities he liked the best. He also asked his friends to buy cookies and do the same.
It was through this sort of informal research that Brown determined, “people like soft cookies better” and, he also figured what ingredients he wanted to include in his recipe.
About 10 years after college, in the late 1980s, Brown had his recipe “fairly perfected with a blend of ingredients” that he won’t disclose.
Since that time, he’s been giving them away to anyone who asks and even those who don’t.
He bakes about four batches a week, including at his law office, Brown, Bauman & Smith, and at home.
“In some ways, it became a ministry and calling, and a way to serve other people,” he said.
His grandkids, Will, 6, and Ellie, 3, already are learning to be his helpers. They even have a special name for their grandfather. They call him “Cookie.”
During a recent visit, as Will helped stir the ingredients together, Brown and his wife, Julie, talked about the guessing people have done over the years trying to figure out what is in the cookies.
Some people think orange juice is an ingredient. Others say olive oil. But Brown is mum on his secret.
“The reality is it’s kind of affirming,” he said, of knowing people like his treats. “So why would I share the secret?”
There are a few variations of Tom Brown Cookies. The standard original has the chocolate chips and peanuts. There’s a no-peanut version, an oatmeal version and the “killer” variety, which can include just about anything but typically features M&Ms and pecans with the original recipe.
Brown even makes special orders, such as one for a local doctor who wanted an oatmeal cookie the size of her head made with golden raisins, no chocolate and no peanuts.
Even though his cookies are well known in various circles around town, he is proud to say he’s never sold one.
When they are made available at events, it’s usually some sort of auction or fundraiser where the money benefits a school or organization.
The cookies have been available periodically at Blue Print Too as well, and Brown donates any contributions people make to the Children’s Miracle Network and the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas.
“They’re invaluable and priceless, not for sale,” he said.
Although Brown’s son, Adam, created a business plan for Tom Brown Cookies as part of a college project, Brown isn’t ready to start a business yet.
He said he doesn’t have the time nor has the right person approached him about investing and starting a business.
Still, Tom Brown Cookies and his catch phrase “Legally Delicious” are registered.
For now, though, he’s content to just give them away.
“He loves to make people happy,” Mrs. Brown said. “He loves people.”
“And I love sugar,” Brown said.